Hurray for Ouray!
~Monday, May 2, 2022~
Nice hearing rain on the roof last night…..always a comforting sound as long as it’s not a monsoon. Looking around this campground made me really think about how fortunate we’ve been to stay at so many amazing locations.
We’d like to think this isn’t by chance, since we’re incredibly picky about not settling. In the past 23 months, we’re happy to report there have been very few duds. Establishing a route and planning/booking things way in advance has also played a significant role.
It seems our lovely neighbors are heading out today, for Fruita, CO. Paula originally thought they were leaving Tuesday. But what we can’t figure out is why they had trouble booking for a longer stint in the first place since this campground is virtually empty. It was great meeting such nice people. Jeff hopes to continue picking Bill’s brain for tips on tire rotation and packing wheel bearings on the rig. As Jeff says, Bill seems all-knowing when it comes to trailer maintenance.
The prediction of partly cloudy weather allowed for perfect temperatures for our hike in Ouray today. We had 2 goals while staying in the Ouray area…….1) Seeing the mountains covered in snow, opposite the Fall scenery we’d experienced on our last visit; and 2) Hiking the ENTIRE length of Ouray’s Perimeter Trail (we only did about 2 miles of it, previously). This will be a hike we’ll always remember with its unparalleled scenery, and the fact that it packs such a variety of interesting segments in 6 miles…….varied terrain, unmatched scenery, four waterfalls, five bridges, a hydroelectric dam, an ice park, a box canyon, tunnels, and a constant view of an adorable town below surrounded by breathtaking peaks. Whew! In the end, we did 1,600 feet of elevation gain and loss, traversing high ledges and crossing deep canyons. Perimeter trails are typically all over the place in terms of ascending/descending since you are circumnavigating an un-uniformed mountain. We knew this could be a challenge in 2 regards…..altitude and terrain.
Starting at 7,760 feet at the Visitor Center parking lot, we hoped to be somewhat acclimated after our arrival in Colorado 3 days ago. The trail immediately ascended steeply and for the first mile or so, seemed unmaintained with quite a bit of rock and tree debris on it. Our guess was that having come off winter, they hadn’t quite gotten to that portion of the trail yet or that maybe this section is not well-traveled in the first place. There wasn’t a soul to be seen. In fact, we didn’t see one person until about the last mile of the hike; surprising since the day turned out to be quite stunning. But Ouray’s busy season hasn’t quite arrived, so we’ll just savor the quietness of the trail.
It didn’t take long to witness our first highlight…..the Cascade Falls.
This was basically where we started the hike on our last visit. This time around, with it being May, the Falls were even more spectacular with ongoing snow melt. As we came to the base of it, we had a few river crossings with the aid of either bridges or big rock steps.
Our next feature was the “Baby Bathtubs” where a stick and water entertained Sadie while we had a light snack. The scenery is basically a bedrock creek bed with heavy streams of water forming a variety of tiny quartz pools, and a wonderful place to rest and take in the scenery.
Not far from our rest stop, we found an old mine shaft which despite the “danger” signs intrigued my husband. He had to at least try and see what he could see behind that locked door. Nothing!
Next, we had our “Sound of Music” moment at the high point of the trail (8,500 feet), where I felt compelled to do a short yodel.
I think Jeff captured the moment on film. The spectacular views encompassed Whitehouse Mountain (13,452 feet), Mount Abrams (12,801 feet), Hayden Mountain (13,139 feet) and U.S. Mountain (13,036 feet). While we’ve been to the tallest mountain in the Continental U.S. (Mt. Whitney), nothing beats the number of high peaks in Colorado; 54 of them over 14,000 feet. California has less than 10.
On a few occasions, we had to cross Highway 550 (the beginning of the notorious Million Dollar Highway), which was a bit eerie not seeing one car in sight. It was as if we had the entire place to ourselves. Evidently, they’re doing intermittent road closures, allowing work to be done on the backup power line serving Ouray County; in turn, upgrading infrastructure.
The trail took us to more river crossings until we came to a service road (the Ice Park Trail) where we crossed a stile to get over a large black pipe.
We didn’t think Sadie was going to manage this on her own. But without hesitation, she made one easy hop on top and over. Well o.k. then! I guess 4 legs help! We later found out that the large pipe carries water to the Ouray Hydro-Electric Plant which also supplies water to the Ice Park. Every January, Ouray hosts the annual Ice Festival where ice climbers from all over the world step up to the challenge of ice climbing the Uncompahgre Gorge. During the summer months, the area hosts a popular outdoor activity……Ouray’s Via Ferrata which means the “iron way” in English. A common activity in Europe, it offers a thrilling combination of rock climbing, grappling and traversing with the aid of ladders, bridges, rungs and steel cables. If interested you can check out the experience in this YouTube video: https://youtu.be/-LbDDuNf6YI. Hmm….maybe one day when I’m in better shape.
Next was our revisit to “Box Canon” (Spanish spelling) Falls and Park. There is an option to tour the Lower Falls, but since we’d done that the last time, we decided to stick with the Upper Falls portion. Though hesitant at first, crouched down in fear, Sadie did a fantastic job crossing the grated suspended bridge over the gorge. She certainly has determination and will! Once we got through the dark tunnel (the video makes it look brighter than it is, we descended a set of steep stairs leading down the cliff along the gorge.
Still above the gorge, we came to the “Box Canon” Hollywood style sign that we’d originally only seen from the town below. Next was a brutal set of switchbacks where we were about to cross the Oak Creek Bridge when Jeff realized he left Sadie’s leash behind at our previous overlook. Even though it would require him to backtrack the steepness of which we came, he decided to go back and retrieve it anyway. What a guy. Sadie would not take her eyes off that trail until her “daddy” came back safe and sound.
Finally, we crossed another grated bridge and a set of stairs to get to our final segment and the scariest part…..very exposed sheer cliffs to the gorge below (not for anyone with a fear of heights). I was a little worried about Sadie in this section, but we decided it was safer to keep her off-leash for her sake and ours. It wasn’t too far from this point that we ran into our first hiker headed in the opposite direction. The last ½ mile or so seemed an eternity with its steep dissension back into town. My hiking poles would have been nice at this point (didn’t think to bring them). After crossing the Uncompahgre River one last time, seeing Hank was a welcome relief.
Though exhausted, what an exhilarating experience.
This hike definitely moves into our top 5 of the trip and was well worth a celebration at the Ouray Brewing Company. We couldn’t have asked for a better sunny, warm spot than on their rooftop bar with views of the town below and the gorgeous colossal mountains surrounding it.